Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 10/24/2012: History of US Failure To Defend Diplomats

From DG:

1) Not responding

Earlier this week Lee Smith wrote America's 40 year embassy crisis. Ben Affleck's movie "Argo" about the Iranian takeover of the American embassy in Tehran prompted the article. In short, American diplomatic personnel have often been targets of hostile elements and America - under both Democratic and Republican presidents - has failed to respond. Here are a few examples from Smith's list:

  • In February 1973, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Black September faction assassinated the U.S. Ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel, and Deputy Chief of Mission George Curtis Moore. The terrorists broke into the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, which was hosting a party, separated the Americans and a Belgian diplomat from the rest of the guests and demanded the release of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, and other Palestinians held in European and Israeli jails. When the Nixon Administration refused to negotiate, the Palestinians, according to one account, opened fire on their hostages, “from the floor upward, to prolong their agony of their victims by striking them first in the feet and legs, before administering the coup de grace.” ...

  • In June 1976, a different Palestinian faction kidnapped the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Francis E. Meloy, Jr. along with Robert O. Waring, the U.S. economic counselor. When Soviet diplomats were taken in Beirut during the 15-year-long civil war, Moscow took swift and brutal action against the families of the kidnappers. But after Meloy and Waring’s bullet-riddled corpses were found dumped on the side of the road, Washington did nothing.

  • In February 1979, under President Carter, the American Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was killed in an exchange of gunfire between Afghan security forces and the Muslim extremists who kidnapped him. Again, the Americans failed to respond in kind.
Similarly, yesterday Bret Stephens wrote about Iran's unrequited war:
Here's a list of the American victims of Iranian aggression: The 17 Americans killed in April 1983 at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut by the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad Organization, later known as Hezbollah. The 241 U.S. servicemen killed by Islamic Jihad at the Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. Master Chief Robert Dean Stethem, beaten to death in June 1985 by a Hezbollah terrorist in Beirut aboard TWA flight 847. William Francis Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, tortured to death by Hezbollah that same month. Marine Col. William Higgins, taken hostage in 1988 while serving with U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon and hanged by Hezbollah sometime later. The 19 U.S. Air Force personnel killed in June 1996 in the Khobar Towers bombing, for which several members of Saudi Hezbollah were indicted in U.S. federal court. 
And then there are the thousands of U.S. troops killed by improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most lethal IEDs were manufactured in Iran for the purpose of killing Americans. 
Let's also not forget the 52 American diplomats held hostage in Tehran for 444 days; the hostaging in Lebanon of Americans such as Thomas Sutherland and Terry Anderson; the de facto hostaging of American backpackers Sarah Shourd for 14 months and of her companions Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer for more than two years; the capricious imprisonment of Iranian-Americans visiting Iran such as Kian Tajbakhsh, Haleh Esfandiari and Roxana Saberi; the mysterious disappearance and apparent hostaging in 2007 of former FBI agent Robert Levinson; and the current imprisonment—under a suspended death sentence—of former U.S. Marine and defense contractor Amir Hekmati.
Both Smith and Stephens point out that the perpetrators of many instances of violence against Americans and American interests often goes without response. If those who attacked Americans and the countries or powers that harbored them, knew that there would definitely be a price to pay, they might be less inclined to attack in the first place.

2) Missing from the debate

A "news analysis" in the New York Times claims that Foreign Policy Debate’s Omissions Highlight Skewed Worldview. The article is mostly critical of the candidates for not discussing the issues that the writer, Steven Erlanger, deemed important. The problem is that he doesn't mention the moderator, Bob Schieffer, who chose which questions to ask thus shaping the debate. However the article, really was less about what was really important (and arguments could surely be made that many important issues were addressed superficially) but what was really important for Erlanger's worldview. For example, regarding the Middle East, Erlanger writes:
There was no mention, let alone discussion, of the role of Turkey or its dilemma as a Muslim nation sharing a border with Syria, no discussion of the aging royal family of Saudi Arabia and its sponsorship of radical and conservative Islam, no mention of Somalia or Islamist threats to allies like Jordan and Morocco. There was a glancing reference to the Palestinians, but no discussion of their divisions, of the role of Hamas, of the separate status of Gaza, of the weakening grip of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, of what might happen if and when Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, leaves the scene. 
And there was no criticism of Israel, its settlements or its occupation of the West Bank. Mr. Romney did say that Mr. Obama had not visited Israel as president even after his 2009 visit to Cairo in which he pledged a new era in relations with the Muslim world. 
Mr. Obama responded with descriptions of an earlier visit as a legislator, but Mr. Romney missed an opportunity to respond tartly, for even top Obama aides concede that failing to go quickly to Israel after Cairo to make a similar speech and then calling for a “settlement freeze” in East Jerusalem, instead of in the larger West Bank, were errors.
Note that for Erlanger the problem with Saudi Arabia is its support "of radical and conservative Islam" but doesn't use the same terms to describe Turkey. He mentions Hamas without mentioning its continued terror war against Israel.

Of course, Erlanger still thinks that the "occupation" needs to be criticized. Even here, he sort of defends the President from criticisms he's received for his condemnation of Israeli settlements by pointing out that Obama's aides agree that he shouldn't have focused on criticizing building in Jerusalem. (At the time of Vice President Biden's visit, the New York Times in its reporting and editorials was quite supportive of the President's making an issue of apartment building in Ramat Shlomo.)

Erlanger makes too much of the omissions. For better or worse, whichever candidate is elected in two weeks will deal with everything he needs to. Debates are shows to give us a sense of the candidates. This "news analysis" is simply a rant because issues that are important to the New York Times were not addressed in the way that editors and reporters of that paper would have liked them to be.

3) Just work with them

Writing with his usual blinders on, a few days ago Roger Cohen wrote Working with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Still, I would argue that the United States has made the right choice; that this new policy of engagement with even extreme currents of political Islam in the Middle East is salutary; that the model should be extended; and that indeed the Obama administration had little choice. To keep doing the same thing when it does not work is one definition of madness. 
What is the alternative to supporting Morsi and the Brotherhood and urging them to be inclusive in the new Egypt? Well, the United States could cut them off and hope they fail — but I can think of no surer way to guarantee radicalization and aggravate the very tendencies the West wants to avoid as a poverty-stricken Egypt goes into an economic tailspin. The same would be true of any attempt to install the armed forces again, with the difference that there would also be bloodshed. 
The United States tried Middle Eastern repression in the name of stability for decades: What it got was terrorism-breeding societies of frustrated Arabs under tyrants. (Mohammed Atta came from Cairo.) The Brotherhood narrowly won a free and fair election. If they fail, throw them out next time. That’s democracy.
Is it tyranny that bred terrorism? Is it poverty? (Mohammed Atta came from a solid middle class background.)  It is rather ideology. And it is the ideology espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood may be better at hiding its true beliefs and may have adulterated some beliefs in the pursuit of political power, but its extreme views are the views of the terrorists who have declared war on us.

Of course, if the Muslim Brotherhood actually adopted politically moderate positions despite their ideology, it would be worthwhile to engage them. But what if they are adopting or threatening to adopt positions at odds with American interests, why not cut them off? It wouldn't be because the United wanted them to fail, but because they chose to take American aid and then kick sand in our face.

One hallmark of democracy is a free press. President Morsi has shut down a number of media outlets he didn't like. Given its control of much of society and its organization, the Muslim Brotherhood really doesn't need to worry about the next election. With people like Roger Cohen apologizing for them (just as he did for the Iranian regime) it will make their suppression of democracy that much easier.

But there's another danger that the Muslim Brotherhood presents. Just after the Emir of Kuwait handed Hamas a major diplomatic victory by visiting Gaza, Hamas launched another round of attacks against Israel. Barry Rubin gives some context to this escalation:
There are two important factors in this latest offensive. First, the attacks from Hamas and the smaller groups it allows to operate from the Gaza Strip are increasing. Second, an emboldened Hamas is now more directly involved in these operations. 
This trend is a direct result of the fact that Hamas now feels secure in that its Muslim Brotherhood allies are governing Egypt and allowing more, and apparently more advanced, military equipment to enter the Gaza Strip. 
The danger is that as the Brotherhood consolidates power in Cairo and Hamas becomes even more confident it will at some point open a war against Israel. Such a conflict would bring even more Brotherhood-Hamas cooperation and such things as escalated attacks across the Egypt-Israel border and the entry of Egyptian volunteers into the fighting. An Egyptian army that has been purged by the Brotherhood regime will not pose an independent barrier to such a situation, which could lead to Cairo being dragged into war with Israel.
Cohen's thesis of the temperate nature of the Muslim Brotherhood were obsolete before the pixels were illuminated on the screen. Hamas's latest escalation is further proof of how asinine his analysis is.
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